gravel cyclist cramming training

There’s No Cramming in Cycling

By: PCG Elite Coach David Ertl, Ph.D.

originally published 15 December, 2017

There is both a physical and mental preparation that needs to take place.  

Cramming last minute training cannot make up for lack of preparation earlier in the season and can in fact be more detrimental than beneficial.

Have you ever crammed for an exam?  Have you ever observed someone who has? I have never pulled an all-nighter before an exam because I observed a college roommate who did and it wasn’t pretty. At that point I realized whatever additional knowledge he may have gained by cramming all night was negated by his ability to think straight and failure to make use of all the other knowledge he had gained through the entire semester.  This same logic applies to cycling.  Cramming last minute training cannot make up for lack of preparation earlier in the season and can in fact be more detrimental than beneficial.  I’d like to share a few thoughts on how to properly prepare yourself for a race or event that you wish to prioritize in your season. I believe this is an area that has not received a lot of attention but can have great benefits.

There are lots of books and articles written about tapering before a major event.  But what I would like to discuss are those last couple of days leading up that that important event.  I’ve often noticed that I place better in races than some of my teammates who beat me up and drop me like a rock on our Tuesday night team training ride.  Why is that?  Preparation.  I don’t put the same amount of energy or effort into preparing myself for a training ride that I do for races.  There is both a physical and mental preparation that needs to take place.  

Physical Preparation

It is very important that your body is fully recovered and fresh going into a major event. Depending on the length of the event, your taper will vary, but regardless of the taper length, for the last couple of days you want to be very deliberate about what you do. I’ve often observed cyclists who will do a hard training ride two days before a major race.  This is like cramming. There is no way that training can help improve your performance on race day as the training effect will take more than two days to be realized. Maybe a recent training session will improve your fitness by 1% but if you are fatigued and only can race at 95%, what’s the use of that? 

Preparation for a race is an individual thing and you need to figure out what works for you. Some people take the day before an event completely off; others prefer to spin or do some light efforts the day before. I prefer to take the day off two days prior to a race and then do some loosening up the day before. 

Nutrition and rest are also critical going into an event.  Eat appropriately for the distance and ensure you have the proper mix of carbs needed and focus on getting fully hydrated. We often have to get up unusually early the morning of a race so factor that in and try to compensate by going to bed earlier and make sure you get a good night’s sleep for the days leading up the event.

Mental Preparation

I believe this is a critical piece of race prep as well although I’ve not seen much written about it other than some articles on visualization. Spend a fair amount of time thinking about an upcoming race and getting myself psyched up for it. Be ready to go to the start line full of determination and ambition. By building up your anticipation in the week leading up to an event, you can bring your full focus and fortitude to the race. The ability to eke out every last bit of your fitness depends on a mindset that allows you to do so. In the days leading up to an event, try to avoid negative thoughts and don’t allow yourself to become overly nervous, but instead focus on the goals you have for that event.

You put in a tremendous about of time and effort into your training. Much of at that can be wasted if you fail to take the proper steps to fully realize your preparation during those last couple of days before your event. This can make the difference between meeting your goals and dropping out. It’s a small investment that can have huge effects.

Let us help you prepare for your best season yet!

 “You can’t win every race, but you can nail your peak.” 

— Hunter Allen